What is the “Wesleyan” Part of a Wesleyan University?

 

1. The Nature of Wesleyan Colleges and Universities

A college or university of The Wesleyan Church is not the same as a Wheaton or a Fuller. Indeed, they are not even the same as Free Methodist colleges or universities. For example, many might be surprised to know that Wheaton College was actually founded as a Wesleyan Methodist institution. But because it was created as a self-contained institution, its trustees felt free to change first to a Congregationalist college and then to this day it remains somewhat Calvinist in flavor. But its governance is a matter of a self-perpetuating group of trustees who have the authority to make it become anything they want it to be.

 

It is not so with a Wesleyan university. The Wesleyan Methodist Church learned its lesson after “losing” a couple institutions like Wheaton and from then on made sure it held the title deeds to the colleges it founded. This is not true of, say, Free Methodist institutions. If a Free Methodist college decided to abandon its connection with the Free Methodist Church, the most the denomination could do would be to withdraw its funding and support.

 

But the Wesleyan Church has the authority to fire the board of trustees of any of its institutions. Indeed, the Wesleyan Church closed one of its former institutions even though its trustees had unanimously voted to keep it open. A college like IWU will never become more liberal than the Wesleyan Church will allow it. If its trustees at some point decided that for some reason they wanted to focus on making money to the exclusion of being a Christian college in some way, the Wesleyan Church could remove every one of them from office and replace them with whomever they wished.

 

This is an important fact about a Wesleyan college or university. Its boss is The Wesleyan Church, and it serves the pleasure of The Wesleyan Church. To be sure, the Wesleyan Church does not have an oppressive or antagonistic attitude toward its institutions. Those of us who work at Wesleyan universities can be thankful for having a very helpful boss that, indeed, looks to us for guidance on important issues. This relationship is not a bane to its colleges and universities!

 

But this factor is not a matter for debate. There are things that can be changed and things that cannot be changed. This is an issue that will not change for the foreseeable future.  Here is a warning to the naive who think that academia—anywhere—is just about truth and that an intellectual can argue his or her way into existence no matter what the college.  Rare is the institution that has no expressed or unexpressed boundaries around what a professor can or cannot say.[1]

 

Duane Litfin has suggested that for many Christian institutions, something he calls the “voluntary principle” is in force.[2]  In this principle, faculty at a Christian college or university are free to publish whatever they want as long as the hiring process has taken place successfully.  What he means is that an honest applicant will not agree to come teach at an institution if they cannot freely operate within the bounds of its identity.  Similarly, an academic institution will not hire or continue the contract of a faculty member who cannot freely operate within its boundaries.  While concrete situations will naturally stretch the boundaries of these sorts of considerations, Litfin’s notion of a “voluntary principle” seems coherent and appropriate to the nature of what he calls the “systemic” Christian institution of higher learning.[3]

 

 

2. A Little Genetics

2.1 The Broader Family

0-1054 The Church Catholic

If you were a Christian during the first thousand years of Christian history, you were part of the church catholic, the church universal (P.S., you still are).  Protestants often forget that the first 1500 years of the church were “catholic” (small c) years.  But it was during this period that God led the church to formulate such foundational concepts as the New Testament, the Trinity, the Fall of Adam, and so many other things that are only hinted at in Scripture.  It would be possible to read Scripture and come to different understandings, as the history of heresies and cults testifies.  Most cult leaders have hyper-conservative views on the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture.  It is because they are in discontinuity with the church that they end up with perverse interpretations.  In the first thousand years of Christian history God worked out far more than most imagine of who—not only Wesleyans, but who all Christians are and should be.

 

The year 1054 saw the Great Schism between the Eastern and Western church.  The Eastern church was willing to consider the Pope the “first among equals,” but the Pope of that time insisted that he was above, not equal to the other bishops.  A flurry of mutual excommunication ensued, and the first really major split between segments of the church catholic took place.  We might hereby note that the supreme authority of the Pope is not a matter of Christian consensus.

 

1500’s The Anglican Reformation

With the power of the Roman Catholic Church in ebb, a number of reformers successfully challenged its authority both on a political and theological level.  The most famous is of course Martin Luther, the “father” of Protestantism.  As part of what we might call a “Back to Scripture” movement, Luther questioned things like celibacy in priests, purgatory, and especially the idea that you could get years off of purgatory because of the merits of the saints (indulgences).  His pruning would lead him to reject the deuterocanonical books that the church had used throughout its history—we get a feel for how radical this move was when we see that Luther also felt free to question some New Testament books like James.  With a lesser basis for rejection, he retained all the New Testament books.

 

From a scholarly standpoint, some of Luther’s pruning was likely overreaction.  For example, it is the consensus of the scholarly community that his reading of Paul was skewed at a number of points, particularly on his formulation of justification by faith.[4]  On many other issues a significant portion of the scholarly community would take issue with Luther, including issues that are important to the Wesleyan tradition.[5]  Finally, we can question whether it is even possible to divorce Scripture from the church and remain orthodox.  Certainly the nature of the biblical texts is such that context must be provided in order for them to take on meaning, and at this point the Protestant dictum of sola scriptura becomes very problematic—and indeed the primary culprit behind Protestant fragmentation.

 

But John Wesley was not a Lutheran.  He was an Anglican.  To be sure, Wesley could be quite vitriolic with regard to the Pope.  We should remember that the post-Vatican II Popes of the Roman Catholic Church have been cut from a different cloth from the Popes of the Reformation Era.  But as an Anglican, Wesley was prone to be more “catholic” in flavor than the reformers of the Continent.  Henry VIII initiated the separation of the Anglican Church for more “practical” than theological reasons and in fact had written a treatise against Luther as Luther began to remove from the Church (Henry really wanted an annulment of his marriage from the Pope).  But we should not equate the virtuous reformers of England who actually carried out the separation with him.  Individuals like Thomas Cranmer were incredibly virtuous Christians.

 

These formative Anglicans were also quite catholic in flavor.  It is to this day considered ironic that Cranmer was burned at the stake in part for his Protestant role in the separation (by Bloody Mary), given how catholic in nature he was.  Some reformers like John Jewel argued that the Anglican Church was in fact catholic in a truer sense than the Roman Catholic Church, which he believed had departed from the true catholic faith.  Make no mistake, Wesley was Protestant.  But Wesleyans take in their DNA a Protestantism that by its very nature has a larger role for Christian tradition and the church to play than other Protestant groups might.  We see this factor especially in Wesley’s Quadrilateral, the sense that in addition to Scripture, tradition, experience, and reason are factors in discerning God’s will.  Gary Cockerill of Wesley Biblical Seminary has referred to the Wesleyan hermeneutic as prima scriptura rather than sola scriptura, “Scripture first” rather than “Scripture only.”

 

If we accept the Protestant Reformation at least as partially legitimate, we must also accept along with it some other ecclesiological conclusions.  The most significant one is the principle of reform.  That is, that not all Christian development is strictly evolutionary or permanent.  Indeed, if we are to accept the legitimacy of the Protestant Reformation, then we must accept that even items of consensus can be wrong.  Here I am thinking in particular of the fact that in the medieval period, the universal church believed that priests should ideally be celibate.  The Orthodox half of the church was more open to married priests to be sure, but one needed to be married before one was ordained and could not marry thereafter.  If we are to remain Protestants, we must affirm the principle of even consensual reform.

 

We might also note that perhaps the primary catalyst for Protestant reform was the original meaning of the biblical writings.  To be sure, the reformers did not have at their disposal the kinds of information and critical tools that we have.  Their ability to arrive at the original meaning was far inferior to that of us today.  In addition to the multiplicity of additional sources we have, we also stand today on the shoulders of five centuries of interpretive dialog along these lines.  We would not be fully Christian without the church after the New Testament, but the original meaning remains an important voice of potential critique within the church.

 

1700’s John Wesley

You will notice that Wesley is background to The Wesleyan Church rather than its founder.  This is a point of some significance.  One might think that with the name Wesleyan, John Wesley would be the founder of this church.  But Wesley was the “father” of Methodism and the Methodist Episcopal Church in America, not The Wesleyan Church.

 

Some important benefits result from this historical situation.  For example, while we hold Wesley in high regard (after all—we would not call ourselves The Wesleyan Church if we did not), our beliefs and practices are not limited by his.  As part of a broader Wesleyan movement, we are particularly free to critique Wesley and even possess beliefs and practices that are not in complete concordance with his.  We can freely engage in critique of this great thinker and churchman. 

 

A second benefit is the fact that we look less cult-like.  We do not worship John Wesley or come even close to thinking the man to be perfect (no pun intended).  I will confess to getting a little uncomfortable—even a little irritated—when I have heard Wesleyans begin to reference Wesley’s thought and works in any almost Scriptural way.  Wesley was a truly great man and a great theologian (I believe).  But he was a product of his age as well and could no doubt have used therapy at times.  There is a sense in which we cannot “recover” our roots in John Wesley because he is before our roots.  He’s our grandfather—in our genes but not our closest relative.

 

We will look at some of the more important Wesley elements in our genetics in a moment.  Some, like the idea that you can be assured of salvation in this life, have influenced broader Christendom.  However, by far the most significant teaching of John Wesley in the emergence of the Wesleyan Church was his idea of Christian perfection, or “entire sanctification” and “holiness,” as the idea was more commonly known in the formation and consolidation of the Wesleyan Church.  As it relates to the current state of the church universal, the very idea that you can successfully resist temptation to sin may be the greatest potential contribution of Wesley to the broader church today.  We will mention the most significant contributions of Wesley to Wesleyan identity subsequently.  In particular, the relevance of the Quadrilateral to Wesleyan higher education seems quite significant.

 

2.2 Immediate History

The Wesleyan Methodist Church

In 1843 a group of churches that had withdrawn from the Methodist Episcopal Church over the issue of slavery reorganized as The Wesleyan Methodist Church. This is the true beginning of the Wesleyan Church. Much has changed in America since 1843. For example, the Civil War removed the initial reason for the Wesleyan Methodist Church’s existence. Many of its founding members returned to the broader Methodist Episcopal Church after the emancipation of the slaves. The church would reformulate its identity in the late 1800’s around the holiness revivals of that era.

 

Nevertheless, the social values of the early Wesleyan Methodist Church are something for us to be proud of. History has shown it to have been on the right side of the slavery issue. It was also on the right side of the women’s issue. The first ordination service of a woman in America was preached by Luther Lee, one of the founders of the Wesleyan Methodist Church. The women’s rights movement traces its beginnings to a Wesleyan Methodist Church in Seneca Falls, New York. While the woman’s rights movement today is sometimes considered “liberal,” let us remember that many of these early efforts aimed at giving women the right to vote, something surely no Christian against women’s rights today would try to argue against.

 

This is a strong warning to those who assume that God’s position is always the so called “conservative” position. What is considered “conservative” is largely a function of the issues of a particular context at a particular point in time—beyond question, it is a moving target. No one who knows anything about the history of the Wesleyan tradition would deny its ultra-conservatism in the earlier part of the twentieth century, yet it fully affirmed women in ministry as part of the Pentecostal leveling of the spiritual playing field. Today’s conservatism is not yesterday’s, nor will it be tomorrow’s. Issues of conservatism do map uniformly from one generation to the next.

 

So while conservatives fought tooth and nail against the Equal Rights Amendment of the 70’s, most political conservatives operate today as if it had passed—their predecessors would have considered them liberal. We had best always seek out God’s position on an issue rather than what might seem to be culturally conservative at a particular point in time. I would argue that those conservative groups that refused to be a part of the Wesleyan merger in 1968 are largely stuck with the “look” of the Wesleyan church around the time they emerged as a distinct group (in other words, the look of mid-twentieth century holiness people). The Amish are similarly stuck with the “look” of their point of origin. Neither of these groups look anything like the early Christians.

 

By the end of the 1800’s, the Wesleyan Methodist Church was swept up in the holiness revivals of that period. These revivalists preached entire sanctification more along the lines of Phoebe Palmer than John Wesley. They formulated the experience in terms of the Day of Pentecost in the book of Acts (which Wesley did not in his writings). And they preached a “shorter way” to sanctification that saw the experience’s immediate availability rather than Wesley’s sense that a person would have to wait for God’s timing. On his more pessimistic days, Wesley not only questioned his own “perfection,” but wondered if only a few would have the experience relatively late in life. On other days his timing would have sounded more similar to Palmer.

 

The typical Wesleyan church today does not look a lot like the churches of the holiness revivals, so much so that 10 years ago Keith Drury pronounced the holiness movement dead as a movement (not the doctrine). We might speculate on any number of causes. One of the main ones was the fact that the boomer generation associated holiness with the perceived legalism of their parents—which they rejected with a vengeance. They invested all their energies in the church growth movement and disdained the preaching of the previous generation. The newer generations do not share these experiences with them and are more open to the doctrine.

 

Yet there have been other detractors as well. You will search long and hard to find a Bible teacher at any Wesleyan college or seminary (or a kindred denomination)—let alone any other biblical scholar (among whom you will not likely find a single scholar)—who equates the Spirit fillings of Acts with a secondary experience of entire sanctification rather than the initial, defining Christian experience. In my opinion, the core truth of the doctrine biblically is the fact that the Spirit can empower us to be victorious over sin and temptation and that, indeed, Paul teaches that the Spirit frees us from the “law of sin,” the “sin that dwells in our members.” In other words, the Bible teaches freedom both from sin acts and the power of sin in our lives. This was always the core of the doctrine. It is Wesley’s form of the doctrine. And it remains perhaps the greatest potential contribution of the Wesleyan tradition to the broader church.

 

The Pilgrim Holiness Church

As the holiness revivals took place, a collection of individual groups, marking their beginning in 1897, would eventually snowball into what became the Pilgrim Holiness Church. What I love about this church, my own roots, is that it represented a “getting together” rather than a “separating.” Any group that defines itself by separation inevitably must defend the preposterous claim that there have been no Christians with true understanding until that group was formed.

 

Such groups, usually with little or no real perspective on history, must inevitably see a huge gap between the early Christians (as they read them in the biblical text) and the formation of their group with the truth. Such a claim is highly unlikely, even irrational.  It seems to me that there are only two sensical positions: 1) that God is less concerned about our heads being right than our hearts, and there will be a lot of Christians from countless different Christian groups in heaven or 2) that God is less concerned about our heads being right than our hearts, but there have only been a few at any point in the history of the church whose heart was truly right—still from countless Christian groups. Even those who see the saved on a very, very narrow road must allow for the “heart more than head” clause. This is because no sectarian group today can point to some stream of authentic continuity with them throughout Christian history.

 

There is no narrow ideological group of this sort that we can identify throughout all of church history. We cannot find medieval Christians preaching Palmer or Wesley style entire sanctification. We do not find “Jesus only” types in the third century who believed you are not a Christian if you do not speak in tongues. Nor will we find anyone immersing in the medieval period. We will go insane if we insist that God demands our heads be correct on the issues that splinter Protestant groups squabble over.

 

The Pilgrim Holiness Church was an amalgam of holiness groups, with a strong Quaker component. It tended to be a little more low church than the Wesleyan Methodist Church and a little less Wesley-an. It emphasized sacraments less and placed a little more emphasis on pre-millennialism than the WMC (Wesley was post-millennialist, as everyone before the 1800’s basically was). But it had a great motto: “In essentials unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” This limited, but generous orthodoxy has continued into the Wesleyan Church and is, I believe, one of its greatest strengths.


The Wesleyan Church

The current form of The Wesleyan Church was formed in 1968 as the merger of the Wesleyan Methodist and Pilgrim Holiness churches. The Reformed Baptist Church of Canada was a holiness denomination as well that had merged with the Wesleyan Methodist Church not long before this broader merger.  For much of its history in the late 20th century, church growth rather than holiness became the “watchword and song” of The Wesleyan Church. But of course this movement was not unique to our church. And now that the church growth movement is in its death throes, the Wesleyan Church finds itself without a real identity. In the next few pages I will enumerate what I believe are its greatest strengths and the most likely candidates for its lasting identity in the days to come. It should come as no surprise that I have been highlighting various features of our history all along that flow naturally into what I believe makes The Wesleyan Church ripe for influence in the church of the next few decades.

 

 

3. The Wesleyan Church Today

A church does not necessarily have a fixed identity. Churches can ebb and flow in their priorities; they can even reject who they have been in the past in favor of some different future. With the holiness movement pronounced dead, the church growth movement in decline, and the cultural shift away from centralized denominations, the Wesleyan Church has seemed to coast in recent times without a clear sense of direction. It is in these times that a group needs to revisit its past in dialog with its present. The goal is to re-present its past in a way that enables it to redefine itself for the future.

 

We have done something like this in our brief retelling of the history of The Wesleyan Church and its location within broader Christendom. Now let us suggest three characteristics of its past that fittingly might define it as the church moves forward into the future:

 

3.1 Wesleyans are people of the Spirit.

We are a revivalist denomination that was Pentecostal before tongues came in the Azusa street revivals of a century ago. As I will suggest below when considering a Wesleyan model for the integration of faith and learning, we are a church of the heart first and the head second. At times, we have been so emotionally and experientially oriented that we have bordered on anti-intellectualism. Obviously we cannot even have academic institutions if this is our true identity. It is not. But as a church we are first interested in where you are at in your relationship with God and only then with what your head is thinking.

 

One of the implications of this emphasis is that things like the fundamentalist modernist controversy—arguments about higher criticism, the virgin birth, evolution—these things were pretty far removed from us when they were taking place. We were looking for the Pentecostal power at the time, understood as entire sanctification rather than tongues. These debates of the broader culture had little overall affect on our tradition. A few of our academics paid notice, but the bulk did not.

 

So as the post-modern age dawns, the Wesleyan Church as a whole can by pass some of the quirks of modernism and catch right up with where the flow of history is at the moment. Here I have particularly in mind mistaking certain cultural paradigms in any number of disciplines for dogma, as the only possible Christian ones. Admittedly, Wesleyan institutions of higher learning are more likely to have taken on modernist baggage than the broader church. By their very nature, our colleges have been more engaged with the intellectual issues of the age than the broader church. Houghton College in particular was a bastion of modernist evangelicalism in the late twentieth century.

 

Yet most of our Wesleyan colleges and universities have thus far been more about teaching than about pushing the bounds of knowledge. Most of our colleges have been content to teach the basics than to engage directly the intellectual currents of the day. Few Wesleyan faculty publish in anything like mainstream academic journals. And, rightly or wrongly, a conflict between the Wesleyan Church and Houghton deflated its academic hubris in the early 90’s. I believe this pruning and time of recuperation, along with the academic growth that has taken place at all the Wesleyan institutions, puts us in a good position to begin to “find our head.” We’ve had a heart all along. Let us declare open season on a new age in Wesleyan academics, when our professors will find themselves putting a Christian voice out there in the leading academic journals and publications of all disciplines!

 

Let me finally re-mention the Pilgrim Holiness motto of “in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things, charity.” This spirit of limited, but generous orthodoxy befits a Wesleyan educational institution. This spirit will play into my suggestions for a Wesleyan model for the integration of faith and learning. In particular, it would seem that a Wesleyan model should allow for a greater diversity of the mind than a Wheaton or a Calvin, because the greatest defining characteristic of unity is the heart. As Wesley said, “If your heart is as my heart, then put your hand in mine.”  Allowing diversity of opinion need not be an affirmation of relativism if the controlling body remains fixed in maintaining that its position is the correct one.

 

3.2 Wesleyans are people of the Bible.

Wesleyans are people of the book. The Bible is our playground, the air we breathe. As good Wesley-ans, we wisely recognize that there are always other factors in play, factors like Christian tradition and the experience of the Holy Spirit (cf. the discussion of the Quadrilateral below). But we usually factor these things into our discussion as we look at biblical texts. And when we reach the end of the discussion, we usually express our conclusions in biblical terms.

 

From where we stand today looking back, we recognize that our fathers and mothers read the Bible much the way the New Testament authors and church fathers did. They joined their “Spiritual common sense” to an intimate knowledge of the biblical text. As they did this, they typically read the Bible as God’s Word to them, often without paying too much attention to the meaning God intended for its original audiences.

 

It is good for us now to pursue a deep understanding as a denomination and as educational institutions of the original meaning as well. But we are also in a good position now to recognize that the “Spiritual, church” approach of our forebears is what the Bible itself models, as indeed have the “community of saints” throughout the ages. When the Spirit speaks to the church through the words in this way, woe to the one who questions the message!

 

Yet in addition, many of our biblical scholars have also been classic evangelicals. Dr. Stephen Paine, president of Houghton, single-handedly convinced the Wesleyan Methodist Church in the 1950s to add the word inerrancy to its Discipline. And while the broader church may not have known much about the issues he was wrestling with, the Pilgrim Holiness Church agreed to include it in the Wesleyan Discipline in the 1968 merger as an affirmation of faith in the trustworthiness of the Bible.

 

But the Wesleyan Church has never defined exactly what the term inerrancy means, unlike the Southern Baptists. It is for us a strong affirmation of the truthfulness of the Bible in all its parts, that the Bible both in individual passages and as a whole is truthful in what it affirms (Asbury’s wording). But inerrancy has never been a modernist straightjacket for us as it has been for some other churches of a more fundamentalist flavor. In contrast to them, our leaders and general conferences have consistently distanced us from fundamentalism.  Fundamentalists would feel comfortable within many Wesleyan churches, but the broader church itself has consistently distinguished itself from fundamentalism.  Stephen Paine himself was a leader of early American evangelicalism, which emerged in the 1940’s partly in distinction from the fundamentalism of the first half of the twentieth century.  This is a great advantage for us as a church, because our identity is not locked up with a passing phase of mid-twentieth century culture.

 

As we will see subsequently, individuals and denominations must prioritize the content of the Bible as they move from its diverse texts toward constructing a sense of “the Bible” as a unified voice and theology. This process involves selecting certain control texts and concepts through which the other texts are filtered. For example, most Christians filter the teaching of the OT law through the teachings of Paul. Accordingly, our denominational identity is more revealed by the specific passages and interpretations that God has led us to focus on throughout our history, even more than our official statement of faith in the Bible. Here are a few identity texts for Wesleyans:


1 Thessalonians 5:22-23 (KJV): “Abstain from all appearance of evil. And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

 

These two verses are perhaps the best single embodiment of Wesleyan identity for its first hundred years. The first embodies well the sense that God must be Lord of every nook and cranny of our lives, that we are to “do all to the glory of God” (cf. 1 Cor. 10:31; Col. 3:17). The second is a classic text on entire sanctification. Along with other passages like Romans 12:1-2, it embodies our belief in “complete cleansing” from sin and “radical blamelessness.”


Acts 4:31: “And when they had prayed, the place where they were gathered was shaken and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and they spoke the word of God with boldness.”

 

We used to formulate our belief in radical victory over sin by way of the Spirit-fillings of Acts. I think these passages, especially this particular verse in Acts 4, can continue as strong launching pads for our particular understanding of Pentecostal power and our need for not just a little of the Spirit, but the “fullness” of the Spirit.


1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has taken you that is not common to humanity. But God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able, but will make along with the temptation also the way out so you are able to endure it.”

 

This verse is a good representation of our belief that willful sin is not an essential part of a Christian’s life. And I learned it as a child in Sunday School. I guarantee you that Baptist children don’t learn it as one of their memory verses. Our focus on verses like this one reveals one of the most distinctive elements in our identity.


Acts 2:17: “‘And it will happen in the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out from my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and daughters will prophesy and your young men will see dreams...”

 

We as a denomination are historically and prophetically committed to the full salvation of women, including from the sins of Eve. Women have the Spirit just as much as men, so a woman can lead spiritually in any role to which God calls her—from lay leader to General Superintendent.


Matthew 28:19-20: “As you go, make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to keep all the things I have commanded you.”

 

For the last thirty years, this verse has been our primary theme. In this period, we balanced out the personal piety of our earlier history with the importance of the church’s mission to evangelize our communities and to plan for growth. We had always been involved in missions, but we now focused on growing the local church.


What’s next? The Spirit “bubbling up” verses like the following:

 

Luke 4:18 (Isaiah 61): “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, who—because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor—has sent me to preach release to the enslaved and restored sight to the blind, to send the broken on with forgiveness, to proclaim the appointed year of the Lord!”

 

Wesleyan institutions of higher learning will thus map the teaching of various disciplines to relevant biblical material. As we will discuss subsequently, I mean in particular the Christian, “canonical” understanding of the biblical material, which is a higher authority for the Christian than any individual discipline. But in general the mapping of discipline to Bible should be conducted in the manner of a dialog rather than a strictly one way conversation in either direction. We can easily demonstrate that both the biblical interpretations of biblical scholars and the scientific theories of scientists can change over time. It is for this reason that I emphasize the Christian, theological meaning of the Bible as what is most important in the dialog, rather than the individual original meanings of various texts (see below).  Surely in the end we must affirm the intent of the motto, “All truth is God’s truth.”[6]  We can always integrate real truths from multiple disciplines with each other on some level (even if it is the level of God’s unfathomable knowledge).    

 

The Bible must always be in the cognitive conversation when its content is pertinent. A Wesleyan model of integration is not a “two kingdoms” model where theology does its thing and history or economics or science does its thing. When the content of each overlaps, both must be in the discussion. And the received meaning of Scripture (the sensus receptus) by the church holds the highest authority in the dialog.

 

3.3 Wesleyans are Wesley-an.

The merging General Conference wouldn’t have called us this if it weren’t true.  Wesley is one of the best places to start discussing the “head” that’s guided by our heart. A number of Wesley’s ideas stand out as essential ingredients in who Wesleyans are today. One of his main teachings was that you can know in this life whether you are bound for heaven—broader American Christianity has absorbed this idea too, so it is no longer something that would distinguish the Methodist tradition from others.

 

When we think of Wesley today, we probably think more about his contribution of entire sanctification to theology than the idea of the assurance of salvation, since the latter is now widely held. Wesley taught that a person should be victorious over willful sin from the moment they become a Christian. But he also believed—sometimes more optimistically, sometimes less—that others would find themselves set free in this life from the “bent to sinning” as well—the tendency to sin, the sinful nature. He called this “Christian perfection.”

 

The belief in victory over sin in this world is not a very common belief in the church today. Yet it is the clear teaching of the entire Bible. I cannot think of a single verse in the entirety of the Bible that in any way advocates intentional sin as a normal or expected part of a Christian’s life. This remains one of the greatest strengths of our tradition and one in which almost all other Christian traditions remain in the dark.

 

Of course the Wesleyan version of entire sanctification came more directly through Phoebe Palmer and the holiness movement of the 1800’s. Palmer taught “the shorter way” and made it the expectation of all Christians to experience it today. I grew up with sermons on how we needed to take hold of the “angel” of entire sanctification and not let go until we received the blessing. Further, from John Fletcher on, American Methodists increasingly identified the Spirit-fillings of Acts as experiences of entire sanctification.

 

Ten years ago, Keith Drury famously proclaimed the death of the holiness movement. By this he did not mean the death of the doctrine as truth, only the death of the movement. But some have wondered if what we have really witnessed is the ebb of Palmer type holiness, rather than a more Wesley-an formulation of the truth. A conference last year on salvation at Wesleyan Church HQ found strong interest by Wesleyan educators in John Wesley’s understanding of Christian perfection, which some had never heard distinguished from Palmer’s.

 

Wesleyans thus continue to believe in the necessity of victory over sin and the power of God to free all Christians from the power of sin. We are probably seeing a resurgence of interest in this doctrine among many younger Wesleyans. It will likely remain of the distinct beliefs of The Wesleyan Church.

 

Wesley is known for the saying, “There is no holiness but social holiness.” By it he implied that any sense of Christian holiness that does not lead to positive social action is no real holiness. It was this impulse that lead Wesley to preach to coal miners in the north of England and the reason why even today English Methodism is heavily composed of the everyday working class of England. So it was when Methodism entered America. The Midwest is a powerhouse in Methodism because this was the frontier when the gospel entered America. And while their children are now upper middle class, they were originally the salt of American earth.

 

Our more specific roots were founded in the abolitionist movement, as the Wesleyan Methodist Connection withdrew from the Methodist Episcopal Church for its refusal to take a stand against slavery. The women’s rights movement—something some modern Wesleyans are embarrassed about—is usually dated from a meeting in a Wesleyan Church in the late 1800’s in Seneca Falls, New York. And the sermon on that occasion was preached by none other than Luther Lee, cofounder of the Wesleyan Methodist Church. I proudly celebrate that our fathers and mothers were fighting for women to be able to vote when other Christians were emphasizing that women should stay in their “place.”

 

And so we can question the right of individuals to call themselves “Wesleyan” when they have questions about women in ministry or would place Pharisaic restrictions on what a woman can do in the home. Such a person has lost sight of the “head” of our tradition, and I don’t mean John Wesley. This type person would have opposed women voting back when we were leading the way of the Spirit in the cause of “full salvation” for women as well as men. These were the Methodists whose Judaizing tendencies led you to keep quiet in the days of slavery or even oppose their emancipation. They would fit better in some other more impoverished tradition.

 

In the early 1900’s there was no stigma to a woman minister in our churches. It was only after WW2, when men came home from the war to find women empowered in the workplace and increasingly in society, that the numbers of women in ministry began to decline in our churches. They had lots of children in the baby boom, no doubt diverting many from ministry. Meanwhile, some men felt intimidated by the increasing power of women in society, and the result was a backlash among bigots and the insecure who hid behind the mask of the Bible. But now the disease has infected even the well-intentioned, people like Dobson who—with Nazarene roots—should know better.

 

This social dimension passed on into many of the Methodist offshoots of the late 1800’s. The Salvation Army is a perfect example of the spirit that was also a part of our forebears. It has survived at the grass roots level of the Wesleyan Church—what Wesleyan Church has not kept a food pantry for the homeless or needy who might come to the parsonage door? While many other conservatives oppose helping the needy as if it were actually unchristian in some way, many of our most conservative holiness churches—the ones we have sometimes disdained as legalistic—have continued to reach out to the poor and needy.

 

Wesley also saw one of his tasks as “the spreading of Scriptural holiness throughout the land.” This man was not perfect. Indeed, one of his “sins” was that he did so much mission that he did not give appropriate attention to his marriage. This man circled England again and again and again preaching the good news to anyone who would hear. He was a church planter, an evangelist, a discipler whose class meetings set up incredible accountability for individual Christians. His writings are a treasure trove of resources for the next generation of Wesleyans to plunder.

 

These are some of the key beliefs, emphases, and practices that the Wesleyan Church has in common with Wesley. They have significant impact on what a Wesleyan college or university should look like. We will return to them when we ask how the beliefs of a denominational college should impact its universities.

 

 

4. Clarifying the Quadrilateral

4.1 Reason and Experience

The phrase “Wesley’s Quadrilateral” was of course coined in recent times by Albert Outler. But Outler claimed to be summarizing Wesley’s operating hermeneutic as born out by his writings. The similarity between Outler’s analysis and the categories of Martin Wells Knapp’s book Impressions (cofounder of the Pilgrim Holiness Church) to me is a testimony to the correctness of Outler’s analysis—a multi-tiered approach to discerning God’s will is in the Wesleyan blood. There seems general agreement that Outler has accurately captured Wesley at this point.

 

The Quadrilateral consists of course of Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. But after modernism, we must come to grips with some crucial points of clarification. The first is that human “knowing” is overwhelmingly a matter of reason and experience. I am open to the theoretical possibility that a person can have raw un-interpreted experiences of reality—including internal religious experiences. But these immediately are processed through our minds. Humans cannot discuss matters of truth apart from the involvement of reason and experience.

 

It is thus deceiving to speak of Scripture and tradition as if they can be isolated from reason and experience. Scripture does not come on our hard drives—it has to be inputted. The same goes for tradition. The Bible is an object of knowledge just as anything else we “know” is. Reason is always involved in the appropriation of Scripture and tradition. This is a point of massive significance. We cannot speak of Scripture or tradition as independent sources of truth. They, like all other knowing, must pass through the gate of reason and experience just like all other truths.

 

Kant’s perspective remains, in my opinion, the best expression of what we are talking about here. I will translate him into my categories: 1) our human brains come equipped with certain “knowing software.” There are categories and filters in our minds into which our knowledge of reality is placed. We do not experience “the law of cause and effect.” We experience one event after another, but it is our minds that glue those experiences together as cause and effect. I have not experienced my pencil falling as I let go of it. My mind has cause-effect software that predicted it would fall.

 

If our minds come with “knowing software,” like Microsoft Word, our experiences provide the content of our knowledge, like the letters you type into Word. In terms of the process of knowing, the Bible conforms to the same rules of knowing as any other aspect of reality. The failure to recognize this is the biggest blind spot in the use of the Bible throughout the history of the church.

 

Secondly, since the Bible is an object of knowing just as any other aspect of reality, we have to reckon with the fact that the meaning of the Bible is not some fixed thing in its text. The meaning of words is always a product of a mind contemplating those words. In theory, there are almost as many different possible interpretations of the Bible as there are interpreters, which is the major interpretive catalyst for over 20,000 denominations that get their interpretations from the Bible alone.

 

Here I would like to mention three important elements in the Scripture equation that require serious examination. In my opinion, they indicate a significant disparity between what people say they are doing when drawing on the Bible and what they are actually doing.

 

Words take on meanings in contexts. Read them against a different context and you get a different meaning. There are of course countless contexts against which Scripture can be read. The default context against which any text is read is of course the context of the one reading it. This is why there are so many different denominations. A Wesleyan may read, “and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit,” and conclude that what we are looking at is an instance of entire sanctification, a second, definite work of grace whereby the heart is cleansed from inbred sin. This Wesleyan brings a Wesleyan “dictionary” or context to the words and invests the words with this meaning.

 

On the other hand, a Pentecostal reads this and places the emphasis on the next line, “and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues,” and concludes that we are looking at is a group of people who have taken their relationship with God to the next level and has experienced the gift of tongues. They bring a Pentecostal dictionary to the text and find a Pentecostal meaning. All these dictionaries are to be distinguished from the original meaning, which—although a concept with its own ambiguities—was certainly a function of how words were used when a particular text of the Bible originated.

 

The first concept that we must reckon with is thus the fact that the biblical text can take on countlessly different and even contradictory meanings depending on the context against which its words are read. As Erasmus argued against Luther in his own way (see Luther’s, “On the Bondage of the Will”), it is simply and vastly insufficient to use the Bible alone as the authority for the Christian. Because there is no Bible alone. Unless you specify the context against which the Bible is to be read, you have just equipped anyone to invest his or her own meaning into the text, thus lifting their thoughts to the level of divine authority! This is a horrifyingly dangerous idea!!!

 

Next, because the books of the Bible themselves were written over the course of centuries, their original meanings are quite diverse. They present us with countless unique perspectives that we are forced as readers to integrate. The books of the Bible do not tell us how to connect their teaching with each other. We do this as we look in from the outside. In this sense “the Bible,” the concept of a unified perspective, is a meaning construct.

 

So we join the teaching of the individual parts of the Bible together to construct “the Bible.” Whenever I hear someone speak of a “Biblical Christian” or a “Biblical worldview,” I immediately suspect that the person reads the Bible on a pre-modern level. The determinative part of arriving at these overarching perspectives is the paradigm or thought mechanism by which a person prioritizes and selects certain parts of the Bible as controllers of meaning over others. Does a person more emphasize 1 Timothy 2:12 on the woman issue or Galatians 3:28?  So all conclusions on the meaning of the Bible require a selecting and prioritizing framework or paradigm by which the individual parts of Scripture are combined to form a unity of meaning.

 

Finally, there is a significant gap in context between the original worlds of the Bible and today. 1 Corinthians gives us God’s word to the ancient Corinthians. Even then, this was not precisely God’s word to the Galatians. But the Bible certainly does not tell us how to join those worlds to ours. If we are taking into account what these words meant originally, we again are forced to determine the process of selection and reformulation by which those words go from being God’s word to them to God’s word to us.

 

4.2 Scripture and Tradition

Because words are capable of multiple interpretations, the Biblical text itself is susceptible to many interpretations that are not strictly Christian. For example, recent days have seen interpretations of Paul arguing that Jews could be saved apart from Christ, that only Gentiles needed Christ’s blood for atonement. Others interpret Paul in such a way that we should not think of contemporary Judaism as a different religion from Christianity, that we should speak of ecumenical discussion not just between Protestants and Catholics, but between non-Christian Jews and Christians.

 

Without going into detail, let me suggest that Christians—without even realizing it—have an intuitive and mostly subconscious system of interpretation whereby the text takes on orthodox meanings. The extent to which this process takes place would be clear to us if we were able to go back and see the writings of the Bible in their full historical context. Take the book of Hebrews. When we read the book of Hebrews, we are not surprised to find it telling us that Christ’s death has put an end to the Old Testament sacrificial system. We are further not surprised to find that Old Testament sacrifices did not really take away sin. We intuitively declare this the “biblical” position on atonement and Old Testament sacrifices. We intuitively know that this is the Christian position as well.

 

But if we could see Hebrews in its original setting, we might just find that this message was highly controversial—perhaps even in the church. Acts 21 implies that James urges Paul to pay and participate in a vow of several early Christians. In other words, James is urging Paul to participate in temple sacrifices and Paul agrees. According to Hebrews, such sacrifices are no longer necessary.

 

What this means is that the same text of Hebrews can not only take on different meanings—its overall significance can very depending on its context. It had a certain significance when it was first written, when many Christians may have actually disagreed with it. And it has a “canonical” significance, a significance it takes on in the light of Christian history, Scripture-as-churched. The canonical significance of Hebrews is that Christ is the final atonement, indeed the only atonement. It does not matter whether any other New Testament author might have thought differently, for Hebrews is the controlling text the church has “chosen.”

 

There are any number of other instances where we are prone not to realize how little of the New Testament takes a position of great importance to us as Christians. For example, only two chapters of the New Testament mention the virgin birth—an essential belief for us as Christians. Yet the virgin birth does not seem to play much of any theological role in the rest of the New Testament—including the rest of Matthew and Luke. The canonical importance of the event is disproportionate to its biblical importance.

 

Similarly, very little of the New Testament references Christ’s pre-existence. For example, some notable scholars, such as James Dunn, believe that the phrase “form of God” in Philippians 2:6 is a reference to Christ being a second Adam, not a reference to Christ as pre-existent deity. While he is in the minority with this position, he demonstrates that it is possible that many biblical texts that we tend to see in a certain light because of later orthodoxy, may not have had the same original connotations as we intuitively see in them post-Nicaea.

 

Many New Testament scholars see the Gospel of John as unusual in its “high Christology” of pre-existence and equation of Jesus with Yahweh at the burning bush (cf. John 8:58). Many indeed would suggest that John’s community was considered unorthodox among early Christians, that it was a sect within Christianity itself. Whether these claims turn out to be true or not, they demonstrate the possibility that we read and connect the biblical texts to each other in ways that are quite distinct from the meanings and connotations these books had originally. They suggest that without even realizing it, Christians read the Bible with canonical glasses on.

 

It is thus my suggestion that the meaning of Scripture in the Quadrilateral should, in the first place, be the canonical meanings, meanings that fit with the way the mainstream church came to understand these Scriptures. The meaning of Scripture in the Quadrilateral is thus Scripture-as-traditioned or better Scripture-as-churched.

 

4.3. The Clarification of the Quadrilateral

The healthy operation of Wesley’s Quadrilateral is thus not to see Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience working in isolation from each other. For example, it is not the rarified original meaning of the biblical books that we should primarily have in view but the Bible as Scripture, the Bible with the significance that the creeds and consensus of the church have given it. The consensus of the church is the safest organizing and prioritizing principle, the safest controlling element in determining its meaning and significance for Christians.

 

Many traditions of interpretation of varying weight flow smoothly from the words of Scripture. These range from ones that most churches hold to others that seem the special emphases of smaller Christian groups. Some of these may be God-ordained emphases of particular bodies of believers. Others may be idiosyncratic and not ordained of God.

 

Reason and experience will always play a role in sorting out all these things, for all human knowing passes through the human mind, the content of which comes through our experiences. True Wesleyan integration will accordingly involve the intermingling of all these components in an organic fashion.

 

 

5. A Wesleyan Model of Academic Integration

Evangelical academia has witnessed a good deal of discussion on the integration of faith and learning over the last thirty years. The integration gurus have suggested a number of different models: 1) the “Lutheran” two kingdoms model that keeps faith and learning separate from each other, 2) the “Pietist” model that focuses more on behavior and attitude, 3) the “Reformed” model that emphasizes the proper cognitive presuppositions. Occasionally the possibility of a “Wesleyan” model has been mentioned (Wesleyan here in the broader sense of pan-Wesleyanism). The book in question usually will bring up Outler’s idea of a Wesleyan Quadrilateral at this point (Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience) and deem a Wesleyan model of integration the incorporation of these elements. I believe that this summary is on the right track. Let me develop it both as a pan-Wesleyan and as a member of The Wesleyan Church, give it a little more sophistication, and bring it into the post-modern era.

 

First of all, notice that a Wesleyan model of integration is by its very nature more inclined to be multi-faceted and eclectic. While the other models do this more by way of exception—”We emphasize heart but head is not unimportant” “We emphasize head but heart is not unimportant”—a Wesleyan model is by its very nature a matter of integration itself. Frankly I smile after Duane Litfin, president of Wheaton, has finished making allowances for these other traditions (Conceiving the Christian College). By the time he has made his allowances for the strong points of non-Reformed traditions, he has basically arrived at the integrative Wesleyan model! And while I believe the core of a Wesleyan model has more in common with the Pietist model than the Reformed, no one could ever legitimately accuse John Wesley of being anti-intellectual.

 

Again, quite amusingly, Arthur Holmes’ different forms of integration (attitudinal, ethical, foundational, and worldview—changed slightly from the first edition of his book) are not far from the Wesleyan kingdom themselves! I believe that all we need is give them a proper prioritization and we have a fair model of Wesleyan integration. Let us draw a Wesleyan model of integration as a number of concentric circles surrounding a core.

5.1 Personal Integration

I believe that a truly Wesleyan model will agree with the Pietist model on the highest priority and core element in integration. No matter what your discipline, the heart of integration is the integration of the heart. This includes what Holmes refers to as “attitudinal” integration.  There may be little on a presuppositional level for a mathematician to integrate with his or her discipline. Christian mathematics will mostly if not completely be a matter of a Christian doing mathematics.

 

But we should extend personal integration to behavior and, most importantly, to a “personal relationship” with God through Jesus Christ. I place this phrase in quotations under the realization that much of what passes for this phrase is distinctively Western, modern, and individualistic. I use the phrase with room for collectivist personalities without well defined individual identities. I do not imply any particular emotional content to the phrase. But a person must affirm as an individual (however that individuality is culturally parsed) that “Jesus is Lord” with their being.

 

Behavior and personal ethics are an essential part of personal integration, especially for a Wesleyan. You will sooner get fired from a Wesleyan college for moral failure than for strange beliefs. This is a part of Wesleyan pietism that I suspect distinguishes it from a Calvin or Wheaton College. A professor who has an affair with a student at a Wesleyan college or university will almost certainly lose his or her job immediately and without recourse.

 

Church attendance should be an essential component of the heart integration of a Wesleyan college. Professors who rarely attend church should not be hired or promoted in rank. Prolonged absence from the body of Christ should be grounds for dismissal. “There is no salvation outside the church.”


5.2 Missional Integration

Holmes has a sense that for many disciplines, integration will involve an ethical component. I do not mean the personal behavior of the professor here but situations where the facts of the discipline may point in directions that, as Christians, we simply cannot take. If all disciplines require their professors to integrate with the heart, many will also require an integration of discipline with the fundamental “love ethic” of Christianity. Whenever relevant, no Christian teaching can be properly considered Christian if it does not cohere with the dual commands to love God with all one’s being and one’s neighbor as self.

 

Here the subject of economics comes to mind. It may be true that market factors eventually work themselves out into a system that comes to be best for the majority. But Christians are obligated by Christ to consider individuals as ends in themselves rather than as means to other greater ends (when being such a means conflicts with their existence as ends in themselves). What these ethical concerns may mean is that Christian economics will be obliged to chose different economic paths than a secular economist or an economist following a Lutheran model of (non) integration might. The science of economics is the same, but the implementation is likely different for a Christian.

 

But a Wesleyan must broaden this element in the equation beyond ethics to mission.  Wesleyans believe in full salvation of the whole person.  The need to see the world saved from its sins and saved from the power of sin and oppression.  Wesleyans thus will integrate the evangelical mission into their teaching, as well as our mission to the downtrodden and disempowered of the world on every level.  Indiana Wesleyan University has in recent times taken on the motto of becoming world changers.  This motto fits perfectly with the Wesleyan tradition and our optimism of God’s grace to save to the uttermost.


5.3 Cognitive Integration

Let me gather a couple additional forms of integration under the general heading of “cognitive integration.” We might also call it presuppositional integration. However, in a post-modern age it seems important to draw very clear and tight lines around and within this domain of integration. It is at this point that we might make a claim in comparing a Reformed model with a Wesleyan one. In practice, I would claim that the Reformed model has typically “drawn” presuppositional integration at the core of integration, with matters like ethical and heart integration on the periphery in terms of emphasis. This is an inappropriate priority in emphasis. Further, in the twilight of modernism, it is a sign of the Reformed model’s eclipse. In contrast, a Wesleyan model of integration such as I propose holds much more promise at becoming the dominant model of the decades that follow.

 

It is at this point that I would like to incorporate our earlier thoughts on the Quadrilateral at this point in history. It is my contention that we are currently witnessing a collapse of the distinction between Scripture and tradition. The events at Wheaton, where a professor was fired for converting to Roman Catholicism, are part of the birth pains of that which is becoming. As even one Wheaton professor has acknowledged (First Things article—note that President Litfin apparently does not agree with him), we stand at a point where the Wheaton ethos statement seems inadequate as it stands to prevent a Roman Catholic from being a member of its faculty. This is a situation that would not have happened perhaps even ten years ago. I might add that this issue seems less significant at a Wesleyan college where a personal relationship with Christ is the crucial issue outside the religion division more than debates on how the meaning of the Bible is determined—the real debate that as yet evangelicals have largely not admitted to themselves.

 

The professor claimed to be able to affirm that the Bible is the “supreme and highest authority” for the Christian, since the Pope’s authority is not understood to supersede the Bible but to function in terms of its authoritative interpretation—and even then only when the Pope speaks ex cathedra, a very rare thing indeed (I don’t think Pope John Paul ever invoked this authority). This is one of the big issues facing evangelicalism in the near future, and I believe the Wesleyan tradition is capable of an answer with greater depth than Wheaton College has thus far mustered.

 

With over 20,000 different Protestant denominations that think they get their beliefs from the Bible alone, Erasmus seems without any question the winner of the sola scriptura debate between him and Luther. The post-modern question is not “Is the Bible inspired or authoritative?” The question is “Which interpretation of the Bible is inspired or authoritative?” It is none too difficult to show that Christians—including evangelicals, Reformation Protestants, and indeed, the Catholics of the ages—have generally blurred the lines between Scripture and tradition. Most groups prior to the post-modern era have seen Scripture as the true authority behind what they say (including Catholics)— yet usually without any real awareness of the glasses of tradition through which they have read the Bible.

 

Postmodernism draws our attention to the fact that orthodox interpretations of the Bible regularly invest meaning into the words that are anachronistic to their original contexts. E.g., that the “we” of Genesis 1:27 is the Trinity when it took hundreds of years after the NT to refine this belief (see Psalm 82 for a more likely hint at the original background). Orthodox interpretations—whether they come by way of a translation like the NIV or by intensively scholarly rationalization—use the traditional lenses of the creeds and consensus of the church to provide the “rules” governing what biblical texts can and cannot mean. It is just not really until now that we have been self-aware enough to admit it to ourselves.

 

So to distinguish itself from Roman Catholicism, Wheaton cannot coherently paint the issue in the old terms of “only the Bible” versus “more than the Bible.” Wheaton’s ethos already goes beyond the Bible. I believe the way the issue for Protestants must be framed is “consensus of the church catholic” versus “further developments particular to Roman Catholicism.” So I suggest three levels of cognitive integration particular to a Wesleyan university with some further additions to the third level for a university owned by The Wesleyan Church.

 

Core Presuppositions

Someone might be thinking by now, “Where is the Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral?” For example, are we only to introduce Scripture or tradition at the cognitive moment? Hasn’t a good deal of the two inner circles been a matter of experience and will you really be seen to give precedence to it over Scripture? Haven’t you been using reasoning all along thus far? Indeed, I could see someone drawing the Wesleyan model of integration as concentric circles with Scripture at the center, tradition next, then reason and experience. Would that not be a good diagram of Wesleyan integration?

 

I don’t think it would. Once we have drawn it, the picture does not really tell us much. Why? Because Scripture does not have a fixed meaning until you identity the context against which you are reading it. If you choose the original contexts as the context, we have not yet found the meaning for the church today, only the meanings for the people of God at a different point in time. My contention is that the context against to read Scripture is the church. It is thus Scripture-as-churched that is the central authority for the Christian. Nor can you divorce reason informed by experience from the process—especially experience of the Holy Spirit. We have hopefully clarified these issues in our previous discussion.

 

It is thus the presupposition of our entire “diagram” of concentric circles that reason informed by experience has been informed by Scripture-as-churched. As authoritative, Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience cannot be neatly separated from one another—they are like joints and marrow, soul and spirit, thought and intention, logically distinct in theory, but nearly impossible to separate in practice.

 

So we have personal integration at the core of the integration of faith and learning at a Wesleyan academic community. Since it presupposes reason informed by experience as informed by Scripture-as-churched, this is no blind existentialist leap of the heart. It is a Christian heart with a specific content.

 

Then we have missional integration for many disciplines beyond the heart. This is no secular ethic based on some utilitarian calculus or rational categorical imperative. This is the love ethic that stands as the basis for all Christian ethic, as dictated by Scripture-as-churched.  And for a Wesleyan context it involves both the mission to save the souls, bodies, minds, and entire beings of the world.

 

Let me suggest two rings within the larger ring of cognitive integration, beginning with core presuppositions.  At the heart of cognitive integration, in the third broader ring from the center, is integration with the core dogma of the Christian faith. These dogma are found in the creeds of the church catholic: matters such as God as creator, the divinity of Christ, his virgin birth, and bodily resurrection.

 

It seems unfathomable that a Wesleyan college would hire a faculty member who could not subscribe to this core. As things currently stand, it is inconceivable that a person committed to Mormon beliefs would teach at one—even in mathematics. A person committed to the beliefs of the United Pentecostal Church could not in good conscience teach at one, for he or she would have to view it as a secular campus, since most of the faculty will not speak in tongues and none will have been baptized in the name of Jesus only. In good conscience, such a professor would need to evangelize students and faculty to help them become Christians.

 

Integration of core presuppositions is of course a matter of many disciplines. While the manner of God’s creation is not in the creeds, the fact that He is creator is core. A Wesleyan faculty member thus could not teach that God was not involved in creation or that after creation He ceased to be involved with the creation. These are matters of core Christian integration.


Doctrines of the consensus ecclesiae

Beyond the creeds there are many other beliefs that are held in common by all orthodox Christian groups. These beliefs are the consensus ecclesiae, the “consensus of the church.” Creation of the universe ex nihilo or out of nothing has been the common belief of Christians since the 200s. The existence of a detachable soul that continues to exist at death in the time before the yet to come resurrection of the dead. These are views that are not clearly enumerated in Scripture nor are they explicitly stated in the core creeds of the faith. Yet they are things that mainstream Christianity has believed from its earliest days.

 

These views are perhaps slightly—though not much more in flux than the dogmas of Christendom. For example, in the year 1300 the entire church pretty much agreed that the ideal was for a priest to be celibate. Yet this is not the consensus of the church today. Similarly, two hundred years ago it was pretty much the consensus of the church that women could not be ministers. Yet this is not at all the consensus of the church today. In my opinion, perhaps the most important next step in the rapproachment of the church universal is to work out the dynamics and rules of the consensus ecclesiae. Clearly I am not Roman Catholic, so their answer is not my answer.

 

We now face some of the thornier issues of integration of faith and learning. Matters of consensus like creation ex nihilo, the inception of death because of the sin of Adam, the existence of a detachable soul. These interpretations of Scripture-as-churched were forged under vastly different circumstances than the academic contexts in which such things are discussed today. As science has looked beyond the “expressions” of reality to “explain” their nature and causes, science and Christianity have come to battle on any number of occasions. Let’s be honest about these conflicts. Christianity has more than once come away looking to be a religion of the ignorant and of the losers. This is highly unfortunate. It has created a climate in which we have shamed God by insisting that the sun goes around the earth or that technology was evil.

 

I think some insights from the post-modern era provide us with some helpful paths forward. I hope you will read my next words carefully. I believe that as historic Christians, we must believe that reality exists. God is not just a construct of our minds—there is a sentient Being who actually exists distinctly from this universe. But post-modernism indicates that our formulations of reality, our apprehensions and understandings of that reality, are a function of the cognitive frameworks within which we function. The universe outside us exists, but our apprehensions of that world are a function of our position relative to that reality.

 

We might think of it as if three people from three different cities were to draw a map to some landmark. The landmark truly exists as do the three people and their locations. But their maps will all differ because of their location in relation to the landmark. God could draw an overarching map that incorporated all three and the landmark relative to Himself as absolute.

 

What this means is that our categories and language—including the language of science—is really much more expressive of reality than explanatory. Scientific equations are like very, very precise myths that express the way things work on a particular scientific playing field. But no one should mistake Schroedinger’s equation for reality itself. It is only an expression of a very small part of reality. I would consider my position here to be a form of what has been called “critical realism”: reality exists, but our apprehension of it is thoroughly perspectival.

 

Let me return to the integration of learning with the consensus ecclesiae. We of course believe that these affirmations are expressions of truths. However, they were not forged in the categories or in the face of the data with which specialists today confront. The important task of integration, it seems to me, is to successfully “map” the modern intellectual landscape to these doctrines. It seems to me that the lessons of history are that we simply shame Christ when we deny the evidentiary landscape to keep from confronting contemporary data.

 

I want to give one example of what I am thinking here. I see the existence of a detachable soul as a matter of Christian consensus. However, this belief was not forged in dialog with modern psychology or physiology. I might add just to keep things in perspective that the idea of the soul’s immortality is not a dominating concern of Scripture either nor does the idea appear in the creeds. In the New Testament and in the creeds, it is the resurrection of the body that is dogma.

 

So what does the doctrine of the soul really affirm—under what circumstances was this idea formed? Well it clearly reflects Platonic influence on early Christianity. But I suspect that the idea largely is meant to attest to the fact that individuals continue to exist personally and consciously after death even before the resurrection. This idea is clearly attested in the NT in Luke, Philippians, and Revelation.

 

What if a psychology professor at a Wesleyan institution were to conclude that there are no elements of human personality, memory, or cognition that are not explained by the biological functioning of the human brain? What if they began to wonder if there really is a detachable soul? In my opinion, we should give them some leeway to pursue the evidence of their discipline. Otherwise it draws into question whether the idea of a Christian university is an oxymoron.

 

What is important, in my opinion, is that they are able to map whatever conclusions they might have reached to the doctrine of the soul. They must believe in the future resurrection of the dead, for this is not doctrine—it is dogma, essential core belief. But beyond resurrection, I believe there is more than one way that they might strategize with regard to the doctrine of the soul. For example, I know a professor at a Wesleyan university who has pondered whether God might create a temporary embodiment for the dead in the time between death and resurrection. His discipline (psychology) has pushed him increasingly toward the conclusion that embodiment of some sort is necessary for consciousness. I once strategized with another psychology professor at a Wesleyan institution who was a little more resistant to the idea of an intermediate state (he’s no longer there). I suggested that perhaps if he viewed eternity as an eternal now, then the dead are immediately conscious at death because in eternity, the resurrection has already happened.

 

Of course Scripture nor the early church fathers had any such things in mind when they were forging the doctrine of the soul. I suggest these things merely to show that it should always be possible to map developments in understanding in a discipline to the consensus of the church, recognizing that both the formulation of these items of consensus—and indeed, the conclusions of any contemporary discipline—remain somewhat in flux.

 

5.4 Denominational Integration

The final element to integrate—which frankly is more than a cognitive element given that it has various missional and personal elements as well (these are the terms I will use for heart and ethical integration in the final draft). In this case we speak of course of The Wesleyan Church, the owner of IWU and its sister institutions. This is the outermost ring of Wesleyan integration in relation to a specific denomination. I’ve already mentioned that our boss, the denomination, has rules. These include that 50% of our overall faculty be Wesleyan in membership and that 66% of the religion division must be denominationally Wesleyan. Further, the chairs of religion divisions and upper level administration must be Wesleyan as well.

 

This requirement has caused us some effort at IWU, where we now have 12,000 students (when you include online and satellite campus) and we have passed Notre Dame as the largest private university in the State of Indiana. In short, it is just difficult to find doctorally trained Wesleyans in any number of areas and, even if we can find them, they are not always the most excellent candidate. Must we hire less competent professors simply to maintain certain quotas? One of the objections to a Wesleyan seminary sometimes raised by the experienced is, “Where will we find the required Wesleyan faculty to staff the thing?”

 

These are birth pains, of course. There is nothing to stop someone from becoming a member of the Wesleyan Church when they come of course, although at times this can be a large sacrifice for someone who has spent their whole life in a certain denomination. Some of us wonder whether attending a Wesleyan church might count in some cases (many of our religion department attend Wesleyan Churches even though they are Free Methodist, Nazarene, or United Methodist). And ultimately it seems far more important that a person be Wesleyan in theology than a member per se. I mention these things to open dialog for suggestions. These are denominational matters that our boss will need to figure out as growth continues.

 

At present, the “on the street” functioning of denominational integration is that a professor at IWU must agree to respect the beliefs and practices of The Wesleyan Church, not necessarily commit to it. I am not certain that this is the official requirement—perhaps they officially are actually supposed to assent to it. But that train seems so far out of the station that I shudder to think of the effort of pulling it back in—it may not even be possible to run a quality university this size and find such folk. I raise an issue for which I do not have perfect answers.

 

Certainly faculty here are expected to follow an ethical code that is related to that of the Wesleyan Church. You may find it ironic that IWU’s behavioral code is actually stricter than that of the denomination. For example, there are more restrictions on dancing at IWU than there are in the Wesleyan Church at large.

 

The statement of beliefs at the university is of course the same of the denomination. I would say that the broader university must respect these beliefs, although it does not seem necessary to me that all commit to the denominational particulars. For example, I believe we have faculty who believe that all Christians could speak in tongues and ideally would (not in the religion division). But they do not push their beliefs—I only know their beliefs because of where I know they attend church. I have never heard them express such beliefs on campus. Similarly, we have faculty who do not believe that women should be senior pastors (again, not in the religion division). But they do not express these beliefs on campus and would be rebuked if they did.

 

My parenthetical comments above push us toward the real nexus of denominational integration—the religion division. Must everyone in the religion division assent to the beliefs of the Wesleyan Church? This question is compounded by the fact that Wesleyan faculty themselves may have “lover’s quarrels” with their own church (as Bud Bence often quotes Robert Frost). Further, the Wesleyan Church itself is not a completely static target. For example, if I have understood correctly, the Australian Wesleyan Church has recently been allowed prayerfully to draw its own conclusions about whether or not it is possible to drink moderately and glorify God in its cultural context.

 

And is there a difference between a non-ordained member of the religion division who, say, teaches a course in philosophy or religions of the world and someone who is directly involved in the teaching of Christian ministries courses? It seems to me there is. I should mention that all the faculty in the IWU religion division ascribe to Wesleyan theology, so please don’t think I am referring to specific individuals here at IWU.


But in theory, it seems to me that the degree of concordance of any professor at a Wesleyan university with the teaching of the Wesleyan Church is related to the subject they teach. All faculty must respect and agree not to work against the teaching of the church. But it seems to me that actual embrace of Wesleyan belief is primarily a matter of how “integral” and pertinent those beliefs are to the subjects they teach.

 

 

6. Conclusion

The purpose of this piece has been to explore what the word Wesleyan means when it appears in the name (or title deed) of a Wesleyan college or university. Let me boil down the discussion to six points.

 

1.    It means that the institution is owned by the Wesleyan church. It serves at the behest of its owner.

 

2.    It means that the privileged position both in behavior and knowledge is the Wesleyan position.

 

3.    Because of the personal orientation of the Wesleyan church, all faculty at Wesleyan institutions will need to have personal relationships with God through Christ Jesus.

 

4.    Similarly, given the ethical orientation of the Wesleyan church, all faculty will need to observe certain canons of behavior.

 

5.    The focal task of a Wesleyan educational institution is, by definition, teaching. But the Wesleyan nature of that teaching implies that "as you teach," a number of other characteristics will be in play:

 

a.     Wesleyans will teach with the goal of seeing individuals who are not in relationship brought into relationship with God. For those in relationship with God, Wesleyans will teach with the goal of discipleship and the deepening of their relationship.

 

b.    Wesleyan will teach with a view to the whole person, body, mental health, family, economics, interpersonal relationships, etc...

 

c.     Wesleyans will teach with an optimism of grace, with a sense that God can and wants to change the world in every dimension of life, that He wants to lead people out of sin, disempowerment, un-wellness, and injustice. For example, the position of a Wesleyan university is for the full enablement of women in all roles of leadership.

 

6.    In the content of their teaching, Wesleyans will

 

a.     Guard the core presuppositions of the Christian faith. No faculty will be hired who is in dissent from this core (e.g., the bodily resurrection of Christ).

 

b.    Map their teaching to the consensus of the church. A good deal of leeway should be given in how that mapping takes place, but the goal is integration under the rubric of "all truth is God's truth." 

 

This is the area of greatest conflict and the area where the greatest nuance is required.  A number of very important caveats should be in play.  Scripture has the greatest weight in the dialog of truths, but it is not strictly speaking the original meaning of individual passages but Scripture as received by the church, what I have called Scripture-as-churched and the sensus receptus.

 

Here we mention also factors that I have called the “Protestant principle of reform” and our need to affirm a critical realism epistemology.  In short, neither the consensus ecclesiae, the interpretation and integration of biblical meaning, nor the conclusions of individual disciplines are static and un-moveable matters.  They all have changed from time to time in the history of the church and are likely to do so in the future.  For this reason dialog on these issues is healthy and necessary.

 

c.     Integrate the Christian love ethic into the application and practice of individual disciplines.

 

d.    The Wesleyan position on relevant issues will remain the emphatic position of the university, although it seems desirable that some diversity beyond Wesleyanism be represented at the university, particularly outside religion departments and divisions. In other words, a healthy institution will likely allow within agreed parameters for a certain amount of faculty who are not strictly Wesleyan. 

 

The current parameters are that 33% of religion divisions and 50% of the broader faculty must be Wesleyan in denomination.  Similarly, presidents and high level administrators, as well as religion division chairpersons, must be Wesleyan in denomination.  The church probably needs to “complexify” these parameters into three tiers, with a certain percentage of Wesleyans proper, and then a broader percentage that are Wesleyan in theology.  Beyond these limits it seems Wesleyan to allow for a limited but generous orthodoxy to apply.



[1] The recent incident with the President of Harvard’s comments on women are a case in point.

[2] Conceiving the Christian College (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 214-36.

[3] Conceiving, 13-20.

[4] For example, Pauline scholars generally agree now that the phrase, “the righteousness of God,” was not a reference to some righteous status God assigns to us but to some characteristic of God as righteous.  It is now also generally agreed that Jews were not trying to earn their salvation by works—their works were an expected response to a God who graciously had made a covenant with them.

[5] For example, a good portion of scholars do not believe that Romans 7 expresses any ongoing struggle of Paul with the power of sin over him.

[6] Arthur Holmes’ well known turn of phrase.